Thursday, 7 January 2010

1960 the eleven plus

Storm clouds were gathering, the 11+ was heading our way, ready to change, stamp and pigeon hole us forever. Believe it or not I really did have to fail. Living on the estate and going to a grammar school was not an option. My 'friends' ( I don't mean Pamela, who was a real friend) in the flats loathed grammar school pupils and my life would not be worth living if that's where I ended up, I was already on dodgy ground, I did not need to make matter worse.

We were given old exam papers to work through and this was our introduction to multiple choice. Unfortunately I did not understand that there was only one correct answer and would often find some obscure connection, which I saw as a legitimate answer. My teacher explained that although technically I was correct, it was not the answer they were looking for. I was outraged, how could correct be so arbitrary, and just about confirming my 10 year old view of the world.

Unwittingly I had been given the tools with which to fail, still I almost blew it and was asked to sit it again because I was right on the border line, thank goodness I was given another chance. Of course I will never know if I was clever enough to fail or not clever enough to pass. Either way I was totally relieved not to be going to Highbury Hill Grammar School for Girls.

We moved on to our respective secondary schools where we would be moulded into respectable young women. Pamela to the Catholic, William of York and me to Barnsbury Secondary School for Girls. I knew little about Pamela's school except that it was mixed and their playground was on the roof. Some people have all the luck. My school on the other hand had several playgrounds all on ground level, and as its name suggests was populated entirely by females. Two of the more sinister variety, the Pye sisters, had a penchant for terrorising the first years and relieving them of their dinner money. To their unending frustration I was protected by an older friend, Brenda from the flats, who went to our school and scared the living daylights out of the Pyes, and there were two of them. She could fight like a demon and did not understand the concept of losing. Any and all foes would be left cowed and bruised. Luckily, on my arrival four years previously, I had been deemed friend and not foe material.

On one visit to Brenda's I walked into a family feud, there were three siblings, who were regularly at each other's throats, I knocked on the door, her brother opened it, grabbed me, dragged me into the bathroom and locked the door. He now had Brenda's prized possession and would not let me go until some truce and promise had been agreed. To be fair he was very polite and did not harm me in anyway, I was just a bargaining tool. There was a lot of shouting and kicking at the door, he was older than her, but she was much the better fighter and he was panicking. Eventually a truce was reached, I was released and he escaped without a beating. Successful hostage negotiation.

Our Dansette was getting its usual hammering - Jimmy Jones' 'Handy Man' was a favourite of mine as was much of Adam Faith's repertoire 'What Do You Want?', 'Poor Me', although wasn't knocked out by 'Lonely Pup in a Christmas Shop'. I assumed Adam was a cute, moody misunderstood teenager and couldn't understand why he would record such a thing.  The EP from the film 'Expresso Bongo' became part of my collection, four tracks from Cliff Richard and the Shadows from the suitably angst ridden movie about the music biz with Cliff playing the part of Bongo Herbert - no really! The Everly's still featured large in the charts as did the Shadows with instrumentals like 'Apache'. My parents were into music too and before marriage and family life overtook them used to go to north London jazz clubs - Edmonton's Cooks Ferry Inn and Fishmongers Arms in Wood Green. They also bought records, my Mum had 'Broken Hearted Melody' by Sarah Vaughan, I really liked that. My Dad more trad jazz and Lonnie Donegan who walked that strange line of skiffle and comedy 'Rock Island Line' and 'My Old Man's a Dustman', what was that all about?

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